The sixth episode of The Ultimate Fighter 19: Team Edgar vs. Team Penn featured a bizarre decision in the third middleweight elimination-round bout resulting in the fighter behind on the scorecards actually being declared the winner.
“Alright gentlemen. This fight is two, five-minute rounds. At the end of the second round, if the judges declare it a draw, we go to sudden victory. The winner of that round wins the fight,” said UFC president Dana White as he stood in the center of the Octagon prior to the bout between Team Edgar’s Ian Stephens and Team Penn’s Roger Zapata. But that’s not exactly what happened.
The Fight: Roger Zapata vs. Ian Stephens
Zapata alienated himself from some of his housemates last week by saying wrestling was basic. Stephens, a wrestler, wasted little time taking Zapata to the ground in the early going of the opening round. Zapata stood only to be slammed back to the canvas. Stephens quickly transitioned and took Zapata’s back. Zapata worked his way back to his feet and was told twice by referee Steve Mazzagatti not to grab the fence.
The Team Penn middleweight began landing elbows while Stephens worked to keep him grounded. “Watch that elbow,” warned Mazzagatti. “That is an illegal elbow. Don’t do it again.” Zapata got to his feet and continued to throw elbows as Stephens fought for the takedown. “Watch that elbow Roger,” warned Mazzagatti a second time. “Don’t do that elbow again.”
Stephens took Zapata down and quickly took his back. Zapata threw back elbows as Stephens looked to secure a rear naked choke. Zapata turned in to the choke in the closing seconds of the round and gained top position. The round ended with the two fighters clinched against the cage.
After the round, Mazzagatti walked over to Zapata’s corner to make sure Zapata understood the warnings. “You understand about that,” asked the referee as he demonstrated an illegal elbow. “Just watch the angle. Just watch the angle.”
Stephens quickly looked to get the fight to the ground in the opening moments of the second frame. Zapata sprawled and delivered elbows to the side of Stephens’ head. Stephens secured the takedown and took Zapata’s back again. Stephens did little damage, but controlled Zapata on the ground. Zapata threw punches behind his head, but there was no power on them.
With a minute remaining in the round, Zapata scrambled out of the position and got to his feet. Stephens kept the pressure on. He tripped Zapata to the ground, but Zapata briefly gained top position. The round ended with Stephens working to take Zapata’s back and landing left hands.
The judges ruled it a draw. It would be settled with a “sudden victory” round. “Thank God. Good for the (expletive) judges. I like it,” said Dana White.
The third round looked a lot like the first two. Stephens quickly took Zapata down. Zapata worked his way back to standing. He delivered hammer fists as Stephens worked for a single-leg takedown. Zapata began throwing elbows after being takedown down. “Watch the angle on those. Watch the angle on those elbows,” said Mazzagatti. Zapata threw two more elbows and Mazzigatti stepped in and deducted a point.
Team Penn’s corner exploded in protest. “Oh no! What? No (expletive) way,” yelled assistant coach Mark Coleman. “Are you kidding? Jesus Christ,” said coach John Hackleman.
With the point deduction for illegal elbow strikes, it was mathematically impossible for Zapata to win the fight. The bout was a draw after two rounds. Even if all three judges scored the final round for Zapata, he still couldn’t win. White got up from his seat and walked out.
Before the fight was restarted, Mazzagatti explained to Zapata why he took the point. “I warned you a bunch of times. You’ve got to get an angle on it. You were coming straight down. Don’t argue,” said the referee.
When the fight was restarted, Stephens immediately secured a takedown. He peppered Zapata with short left hands. He took Zapata’s back and landed a series of right hands over the final minute of the fight.
When the scorecards were read revealing Zapata as the winner, the gym erupted in yells of disbelief.
“He lost a point. There’s no way this kid can win the fight. It was an even fight. How does he lose? There’s no way this kid can win the fight when you already took the point away,” said Dana White to what appeared to be a commissioner off camera. “It’s not even possible. This whole thing is completely (expletive) crazy.”
“The kid in the blue gets robbed by the ref in the first place. Then, now the kid in the red gets robbed because there’s no way, after you lose a point, you win that round. It makes no sense,” added White.
“I felt I had his back for probably a good twelve minutes of the fifteen-minute fight. They gave him a decision that was impossible, but somehow he got the nod,” said Stephens following the controversial loss. “Losing the way I did, I still hang my head in defeat. It doesn’t matter how you lose. At the end of the day it was a loss. It hurts to not be in the tournament. But I’ve still got a lot of time left here, and I’m going to get better.”
“This one, it’s a heartbreaker. I feel like they made it up on the fly,” said Coach Frankie Edgar. “It’s crazy to me. But I think Ian had a great attitude about it. To be honest, personally, myself, if that had been me, I definitely wouldn’t have the attitude that he did. Hats off to him.”
“I feel great. I’m going to call that freestyle striking. Striking from anywhere,” said Zapata following the win. “You’re not just going to hold me and think you’re going to get away with the win.
“I’m not confused by the decision. Look at his face and look at mine. Easy said,” added Zapata. “Am I bleeding? No. I have his blood. Is he bleeding? Yes. Coming out from like three different spots. Elbows all day.”
Dana White Reacts to the Point Deduction and Decision
“At no point in this fight does Steve Mazzagatti say, ‘this is your last warning. If you do it again, we’re going to take a point.’ All he keeps saying to the kid is watch the angle on those elbows,” said White about the point deduction. “First of all, the elbow that was being thrown was not illegal.”
“I can’t sit in there and watch Mazzagatti (expletive) up another fight,” said the UFC president after walking out. “You warn him about the elbows. You warn him. You stop the fight. ‘I’m giving you one warning right now. You do it again, you do another downward-point of elbow, I’m going to take a point from you.’ That’s how you referee,” said White.
While the teams were gathered for the next fight announcement, White explained what happened with the scoring.
“Going into the last round, it’s a sudden victory round. The fight ends and I hear you (Zapata) wins. I don’t know how the (expletive) that is possible because you just lost a point. It’s basically a one-round fight. One judge gave it to you (Stephens). So it’s a 10-8 round. Both the other judges gave it to you (Zapata). So it’s a 9-9 round. Two judges call it at tie. So what happens is they go around to all the judges and said, ‘circle who you think won.’ And they all circle you (Zapata). But that makes no (expletive) sense. It makes no sense. So here we are,” explained White.
“First of all, let me start by saying I thought Zapata won the fight. I can’t stand a guy who does no damage, just lies on top of you and tries to wrestle and thinks he’s going to win a fight. But, on the flip side, if you have two guys call it a draw and one guy thinks it’s a 10-8, I think the guy that gets the 10-8 should win the fight,” added the UFC president.
With the win, Team Penn took over matchmaking control and earned the right to dictate the next match-up. Coach BJ Penn called on Anton Berzin to take on Team Edgar’s Patrick Walsh in the next light heavyweight elimination-round bout.